Humanities

Fred Cate is an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Law--Bloomington. A specialist in communications and information law, he is an adviser to the Federal Communication Law Journal and a senior fellow of The Annenberg Washington Program in Communications Policy Studies.

David Fenske is an associate professor in the School of Music, Indiana University Bloomington. He is also the head of the IUB Music Library and director of the Variations Project, a multimedia network intended to distribute digital audio, full-motion video, and other information formats to multiple workstations.

Bruce Markell is a professor of law, Indiana University School of Law-- Bloomington, whose research interests lie in the areas of bankruptcy and commercial law. He is a contributing author for Collier on Bankruptcy and the author of several recent articles on bankruptcy and related topics.

Edward Stockey is currently the automation officer for the IU Libraries. He is also project manager for the systemwide implementation of NOTIS (on-line cataloging system) at fifty-seven libraries on eight IU campuses.

Robert Shakespeare is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, Indiana University Bloomington. A lighting designer, he is also director of the Theater Computer Visualization Center.

Alice ter Meulen, associate professor of philosophy and linguistics, Indiana University Bloomington, is a member of the Cognitive Science Program core faculty and of the IU Multidisciplinary Logic Group. Her forthcoming book, Representing Time in Natural Language, will be published by Bradford Books, MIT Press, in 1995.

Moderator: Susan Moke

RCA: Maybe we should begin by discussing how each of you uses technology in your teaching and research.

Cate: I rarely use technology in teaching at all. Research, however, is quite a different matter. I just finished an article that I wrote entirely using on-line services--Lexis and Westlaw or Internet services to acquire government documents.

Fenske: I want to ask Cate why he doesn't use technology in his teaching. I think I may know the answer, but I would like to know the reason.

Cate: There are several answers. I don't know of any technology that would be particularly helpful in the classroom given the way and the material we teach in the Law School. Many of the technologies available are unreliable. I also don't use technology in the classroom precisely because I am not aware what technologies might be helpful.

Markell: I use technology in my teaching a little bit more, but probably because of the subject matter. I teach bankruptcy and commercial law. There are computer-assisted learning exercises for students in these areas, which are actually quite good. I promote them to the students as out-of-class reinforcement of what goes on in class.

Like Cate, though, in terms of research, I use technology proportionately more. I use the Internet for e-mail. I recently published a short article that was born and grew up on the Internet. I sent a comment to a friend saying, "Gee, have you seen this case? Isn't it bad?" And he wrote back, "You're an idiot. It's good." After we had a couple of these exchanges we decided to turn this into an article and publish it with a he-said-she-said kind of format. And we did.

My colleague Doug Boshkoff [Robert H. McKinney Professor of Law, IU School of Law--Bloomington] and I have also started a bankruptcy law discussion group on the Internet that's open to academics, practitioners, bankruptcy judges--if we can get them to sign up. It's an unmoderated discussion list. We've got about 65 subscribers now, but we just started last week. We hope to be able to do more in terms of setting up a clearinghouse for working drafts or sending out abstracts of articles for discussion.

Stockey: My position involves a couple of aspects of research. One is doing research in the normal sense to publish articles. The other aspect is doing research in technology for the library itself, evaluating software and hardware. Buying large numbers of copies of hardware or software and making a large investment for the university, it's critical to be able to evaluate whether it is going to be useful and how robust it is going to be. We try to avoid situations in which things are constantly breaking.

In terms of presentation and teaching, I do use technology such as Freelance Graphics or Power Point in conjunction with an LCD (lithium crystal display) projection. One of the problems I have, especially in Indianapolis where I teach as an adjunct, is that the reliability of the network is such that the few times I have tried to rely on network demonstrations it's been a bust that required me to then shift gears very quickly and adopt an alternative lesson plan.

Right now that is one of the concerns I see. If you are going to rely on technology in the classroom, it has to be solid. When you start to look at delivering more advanced technology-- images or sound, which I am sure Fenske will get into--to the classroom, you get into a much higher set of expectations than when you are just trying to deliver some text and graphics.

Shakespeare: We are in a position in theatre, a nonfunded position, where we have no new technology in our classrooms. With the exception of the research center I am working in, which is wonderfully equipped with state-of-the-art graphics computers, there is nothing in the department itself.

I am a lighting designer. That process involves creating an artistic vision of how objects or events could be revealed. I then use technology to implement that vision. My interest is particularly in a viewer's emotional response to the event, as opposed to an illumination engineer whose gratification relies on the fact that you can see a piece of paper clearly on the table.

Technology has always been an important part of my creative loop--translating my vision or idea through real tools and computers, through light sources and wattage, dimmers and amplifiers, and lights that move. But I don't consider myself a technologist in the least. I deal with art; technology is the tool with which I deliver it.

The research I am involved in attempts to preview what a moment or an event or an atmosphere might look like. It does it photorealistically. We can apply that technology very, very early in our collaborative process and avoid making a lot of mistakes. But it also, because ambiguity gets removed early in the process, helps us spend more time on refining higher order concepts instead of on just trying to communicate. Ours is a collaborative art, and in this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words or sometimes a hundred hours of miscommunication.

In teaching students to engage in that process, it would be wonderful to have them use the same technology that I use at the Theatre Computer Visualization Center. A grad student in lighting design could, for example, explore lighting a production of La Boheme at La Scala through simulation--the problems of that theater, the scenic design from another era. That doesn't occur yet. And it will occur when our classrooms are brought up to the standards where these technologies can be implemented.

Fenske: I suppose I am often associated with a project known as the Variations Project in the School of Music. It is an attempt to use multimedia- -audio and video--from a central server, across the network to multiple workstations where a student and a faculty member can use the same digital recording simultaneously, be moving around in it, cutting and pasting music lectures, and comparing music lectures from the same file in a network environment. It's easy to do text, but it's not easy to do sound and video, primarily because, if one lifted the cover of the computer and looked at how it was handling text and numbers, in fact the packets are arriving at quite different times and not even in order. Your machine is recompiling the order of those packets as they arrive. In the case of sound, there is a real need for continuous, time-dependent media. It's got to arrive on time all the time.

And as a matter of fact, full-motion video is not as critical as visual audio, contrary to what most people presume. The reason is really pretty simple. Say you are watching full-motion video on a computer workstation and there's some problem: it starts to jerk or the resolution gets fuzzy. Things like that might be annoying, but you don't lose your information context until it fails. With visual audio, digital research suggests that you lose your information context in less than a second. You don't know where you've been, and you've lost your ability to predict where you're going. So in many respects, the Variations Project is the worst possible environment for this kind of technology. And yet the building is under construction, and we will be deploying it by January of 1995--that's some nine months from now. We think we can do it.

Part of my training is as a musicologist, and I teach sometimes in that role as well. I, too, struggle with technology in the classroom. I have used it quite a bit but it is always a difficult issue.

ter Meulen: My own work is in the interface of philosophy of language and very theoretical linguistics, where we look at structural properties of languages, though I look mostly at English. My interest is in how we use information expressed in ordinary language to reason about certain domains-- particularly temporal domains. Our language has very systematic properties to help us, for instance, extract from a story information about what happened when. These kinds of research questions have been inspired by the development of computational technology. There is an entire new blossoming field, called computational linguistics, with connections to logic and computer science.

On the teaching side, I am a very old-fashioned sort of teacher. My students seem to stay most alert and are most effectively instructed, if I just give a very lively presentation to them. Now for introductory logic classes, there is an enormous choice in courseware that logicians have developed to teach basic logic. These are usually more inviting than most logic textbooks.

RCA: Perhaps now we should move on to talk about ethical concerns raised by our current and projected uses of technology.

Fenske: We might all find this question interesting for different reasons. As we have seen the Clinton/Gore plan evolve in the last year for our National Information Infrastructure (NII), I am increasingly concerned about what has been called the "two Americas." In the 1980s the term represented the economic separation or polarization of our society. I think in the 1990s we should become increasingly concerned about the information polarization between those who have access to information and those who do not.

What does that mean for the fundamental bases of Jeffersonian democracy in this country? We have focused a lot in recent history on the illiteracy of a stunningly large segment of our population. But what if it's worse than that? What if it's not only illiteracy, but inaccessibility of the information to be literate about?

Many of us take it for granted that, when somebody talks about a national information superhighway, it means the same kind of accessibility we enjoy. If you take a look at the rhetoric in the last year, it's clear that the Clinton/Gore bill is increasingly leveraged toward privatization of major portions of this new highway.

Stockey: As a corollary to what Fenske is saying, we are now in a position where everyone can be an information creator and disseminator. The means by which we traditionally got our information was to some extent regulated. There was provision for equal time to make sure that viewpoints were balanced. That's one of the most difficult things about the Internet. There's an information overload. Even if you do have access, how do you distinguish between reliable information, misinformation, and propaganda?

Cate: So much of this points to a fundamental ambiguity about information and the way we treat information. On the one hand, information is treated as having very little power, effect, or cost. For instance, we have never really valued the idea that you could protect private information about yourself. On the other hand, we recognize the enormous economic power of information. There is not a single valuable copyrighted source on the Internet, because owners of valuable copyrighted material are not about to put it out in that setting. That's why Lexis and Westlaw cost a fortune to use. I am always struck--and I think this is certainly true in the Law School, but I am not trying to be uniquely critical of the Law School because I assume it's true across the board--by how much we are driven by technology. If you said what's the single thing that would help you most in your class, I would say give me smaller classes. But instead we wired all our classrooms to make sure we could get the Internet into them. Now we can say we are one of five or six law schools that has Internet connections in every classroom, but not one faculty member uses them. Whether we talk about copyright law, privacy, or "haves and have-nots," they all represent that fundamental incongruity in how we value information.

Shakespeare: I would love the opportunity to consider rejecting even that cable coming into my classroom.

Cate: But that suggests you have a use for it, right?

Shakespeare: I have a projected use for it that remains unexplored.

Cate: And all I am saying is that the Law School, like many organizations, has technological capacities for which it doesn't have immediate use.

Markell: There's always been informational imbalance. Scholars and monks have always had access to information the general populace didn't have. One traditional source which has filled that void has been newspapers-- repackagers of information. It will be interesting to see what kind of repackagers come in to fill that void in the future because there's going to be a need. For instance, databases like Lexis and Westlaw are really repackaging stuff for which there is no copyright. But they are adding value.

Shakespeare: I view multimedia not so much as a canned presentation, but as having at our fingertips in that classroom or seminar environment ways to dynamically visualize or hear the thing under discussion. Access to that sort of immediate information flow transforms the way that we teach our art, and it exposes process, which is what we're trying to do from square one.

Cate: That's exactly the way to come at it. And it's exactly the opposite of the way we are coming at the NII in Washington. Both Fenske and Shakespeare have said that we have articulated needs, we can describe those needs, we can see what technology can help us do. They are both involved in developing and implementing the technology to meet those needs. Generally, however, I fear that the Law School's experience is like the national experience in Washington. Before we spend another hundred billion dollars to connect everyone to this mysterious NII, I would like to think there were more people like them who know what the technology can be used for and have a need that technology will fill.

ter Meulen: Two things are fundamentally wrong with this metaphor of the information superhighway. First of all, it's a very passive, consumer-oriented metaphor, as if you could just get on and see this wonderful information landscape flow by. And that is exactly the wrong picture. We all are saying that what our students need these days that is really new is an education to use whatever information sources are available in their field.

But they should not just know how to push a button and get access to it. They should know how to do something with it. Pure information is a morass: we all drown in it. We get into World Wide Web, and we find ourselves in Europe browsing databases. I get completely overwhelmed and frustrated, because I don't know what to do with the information I am seeing. The real democratic ideal is to empower people to use information to their own advantage. That's not in the metaphor of the superhighway.

Secondly, at least with our current motor highways, we try to get people a license before they get on. As Stockey pointed out, everyone can now generate information and blurt it out to us. Anyone can target any audience with all kinds of information they may find totally useless. How are we to get some sense of protection from information that you have not chosen to have access to?

The educational goals at university, high school, and elementary school levels should be that children should learn how to choose in designing their own routes through useful information, rather than just passively following the highway that's been laid out for them. And the only way to do that is to teach people how to use information, not just to watch or consume it.

Fenske: I think we really have begun subtly and slowly to teach evaluation. The new stage is set: we have the Internet, which as several people have commented is largely unstructured. It's just out there for consumption. The responsibility of academia is, in fact, to engage in the evaluative process.